Enhancing green sea urchin egg production to aid Maine’s depressed urchin market is the research focus of a University of Maine marine bioresources graduate student.
Ung Wei Kenn, a second-year master’s student from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, hopes to increase the egg or roe yield of farm-raised green sea urchins through high-quality feed, a process known as bulking. His research is part of a two-year, more than $215,000 research project funded by the National Sea Grant National Strategic Initiative and led by director Nick Brown and biologist Steve Eddy of UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR) in Franklin, Maine.
“I was always interested in the vertical integration of aquaculture and seafood processing,” says Ung, who completed his undergraduate work at the University of Tasmania, Australia. “I am also passionate about seafood that is popular in Asia. This topic is a blend of all that.”
Ung came to UMaine because he was attracted to the project, but he praises CCAR, where he conducts his research, as a key part in his decision to work at UMaine.
“I always felt that aquaculture is not just a science; it is a business as well,” says Ung. “CCAR is special in that it is specifically set up to assist aquaculture businesses by providing scientific and technical know-how. I would not have this luxury at most other places.”
Ung’s research potentially could have significant economic benefit for the state. Maine exports roe to Japan, where it is considered a delicacy. Since the late 1990s, Maine has suffered a dramatic sea urchin industry decline, dropping to a 2.6 million-pound yearly harvest after 1993’s 42-million-pound high, according to information on the Maine Sea Grant website.
“(Using bulking), we can produce out-of-season urchins, enabling the industry to get the best prices, such as when there is a festival in Japan,” Ung says.
Ung places wild green sea urchins, which are harvested from Hancock County’s Frenchman Bay, in a recirculating aquaculture system, where they are fed fresh and dried kelp and a commercial diet that fosters higher-quality eggs. Harvested sea urchins are usually 57 mm in diameter.
Ung hopes his research will lead to increased roe yield and improved roe quality. After four months of urchin dieting, Ung analyzes roe yield, texture and color data at the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department’s physical properties lab. Taste testing is completed at the UMaine Consumer Testing Center. Roe pre- and post-experimentation aspects are compared to determine if quality has been enhanced.
High-quality roe is sweet, smooth and yellow, gold or orange in color, while poor-quality roe has a watery appearance or bitter taste.
“There is a commercial component where we want to demonstrate that the urchins can be enhanced at a commercial scale,” Ung says. “A higher-quality roe yield would mean better selling prices.”
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745
About 70 high school students and teachers from Portland, Bangor, Auburn and local Native American communities will gather at the University of Maine for a five-day UMaine Stormwater Management Research Team (SMART) Institute.
UMaine scientists and students, city water planners, and representatives from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and businesses including Woodard & Curran and IDEXX will also take part in the institute that runs from Monday, June 23 through Friday, June 27.
The SMART Institute aims to engage a diverse group of students and teachers in training for the implementation of science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) core values in their schools while addressing an important environmental issue.
The institute is supported by a more than $735,000 grant awarded by the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to empower female and minority high school students, their teachers and communities to create innovative solutions to the environmental problems related to stormwater management.
Throughout the conference, students will take part in hands-on projects led by STEM professionals in areas such as engineering design, science, computer modeling and information technology to monitor and map water quality. Participants will tour UMaine labs and stormwater areas on campus, hear from guest speakers, and learn how to use wireless sensors to test water, as well as collect, enter and analyze data.
The institute will cap off with a field trip to the Arctic Brook watershed area in Bangor where students will install the wireless sensors they built and collect data as citizen scientists. An awards ceremony will be held on campus before students depart.
University of Maine professor of oceanography Emmanuel Boss advises students to pursue their passion.
And he leads by example.
This summer, Boss and UMaine master’s graduate Thomas Leeuw will board Tara — a sailboat for the planet — to collect data and conduct research in the Mediterranean Sea.
They’ll study the ocean color, composition and pigments of surface particles.
And in addition to collaborating with international scientists, they’ll talk with schoolchildren about the ocean, swim in warm aqua water and eat delicious meals with backdrops of beautiful Mediterranean vistas.
“It’s a wonderful career,” Boss says. “You should do something you’re passionate about,” he says. “You can be serious about science and have fun in the process.”
Boss finds the work and play aboard Tara so valuable and fun, he’s gearing up for his third voyage. In August, he’ll be one of the scientists aboard during the 10-day leg from Israel to Malta. Boss, who participated in water sports growing up in Israel, says he’s most comfortable in the water and knew from an early age he wanted to pursue a career in oceanography.
Tara is three months into its seven-month, nearly 10,000-mile 2014 international expedition that includes stops in 11 countries, including France, Greece, Israel, Italy and Spain. Tara departed in May from Lorient, a seaport in northwestern France, and is scheduled to return in December.
During the trek, a host of other scientists are exploring the impact of plastic on the Mediterranean ecosystem and the degree to which microplastics in the ocean are part of the food chain. Researchers also seek to raise awareness about the Mediterranean’s environmental issues and encourage policymakers in the region — where approximately 450 million people live — to develop better waste management plans.
At each stopover, the team that generally includes five sailors, two scientists, a reporter and an artist — invite the public to tour the 118-foot-long, 33-foot-wide, 120-ton research vessel. And they take part in outreach projects. May 31 on No Tobacco Day, for instance, crewmembers of Tara removed 53 gallons of trash, including cigarette butts, from a beach.
French designer Agnes B. founded the nonprofit Tara Expeditions in 2003 to “understand the impact of climate change and the ecological crisis facing the world’s oceans,” according to its website.
Boss says the mission, outreach, interdisciplinary science, sharing of chores, stunning scenery and immersion in various cultures make for a valuable and inspiring venture.
And he’s eager to have students experience it as well. Last summer, then-graduate students Leeuw and Alison Chase participated in the 2013 Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition, as did the husband-and-wife Boss pair — Emmanuel and Lee Karp-Boss, associate professor in UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences.
They utilized a $149,714 grant from NASA to gather biogeochemical information from the Arctic Ocean — information that NASA uses to verify data that its satellites glean daily from the same water.
This summer, Boss and Leeuw, who this spring earned his master’s degree in oceanography, will utilize an additional NASA award of $27,000 to continue collecting data in the Mediterranean.
Boss says he was persistent in his efforts to get NASA to provide the follow-up funding. “If you want to make something happen, put all of your weight and belief behind it to make it happen,” he says. “You only live once; go for it. Don’t give up on your dream.”
He gives similar advice to students.
Leeuw says his interest in oceanography emerged when he took an undergraduate course with Boss. Leeuw, a marine science major, subsequently became a research assistant in the University of Maine In-situ Sound and Color Lab.
Multiple opportunities subsequently became available, he says.
Leeuw and Boss analyzed data collected from 2009 to 2012 during the Tara Oceans expedition. This past year, the two developed an iPhone app that measures water quality.
And after this summer’s monthlong Mediterranean trek, the Lincoln, Vermont, native will drive cross country to Washington state, where he has accepted a job developing environmental sensors at Sequoia Scientific, Inc.
The lesson: “Don’t be afraid to make friends with faculty; some of the best learning and research opportunities can happen outside the classroom,” Leeuw says.
Leeuw says last summer’s Arctic trip was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
“It was empowering to work as a scientist,” he says. “It prepared me for this upcoming situation. I’m more confident.”
He monitored a suite of optical instruments and as water was pumped into the vessel’s flow-through system, he recorded its temperature, salinity profile and fluorescence.
Leeuw calls the data that UMaine collected last summer — which is free and accessible to the public — unparalleled.
“We drifted up to an ice pack and took a bunch of samples,” he says. “The water was below freezing but there were massive plankton blooms. Just amazing.”
A UMaine student is currently working to identify the types of species, he says.
During that trek, Tara was blocked by ice in the Vilkitsky Strait for about a week. When Tara was able to forge ahead, she arrived late at the next destination — Pevek, Russia. The scientists departing the vessel after that leg of the trek, including Leeuw, had missed that week’s one flight out of the northern port.
This summer’s adventure begins for Leeuw on June 26, a couple of weeks after World Oceans Day. He’ll board Tara in Nice, France, work for just over a month and debark in Cyclades — a dazzling Greek island group in the Aegean Sea.
Results of the voyage are expected to provide scientific insight into “what is in the ocean — where species are and why they are there,” Leeuw says, all of which advance researchers’ understanding of the ocean and the mission of Tara Expeditions.
Etienne Bourgois, president of Tara Foundation, says Tara’s quest is to understand what is happening with the climate and to explain it simply.
“This exceptional ship must pursue her mission as ambassador of the world’s citizens, must remain a catalyser of energy and desire to tackle without glitter the main question that arises for each one of us: What future are we preparing for our children?” he says on the website.
To learn more, visit oceans.taraexpeditions.org.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Twenty-nine college students are participating in the 2014 Maine Government Summer Internship Program administered by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine.
The full-time, 12-week paid work experience program offers a unique opportunity for talented college students to work within Maine state government. The program provides valuable assistance to state agencies and affords students the chance to gain practical skills in their fields of study. This year, the program expanded to include internships in Maine municipal government.
In 1967, the 103rd Maine Legislature established the Maine Government Summer Internship Program to attract and select college students with ambition and talent for temporary internships within Maine state government. A total of 1,685 students have participated since its inception. This year, 107 students applied for 29 agency positions. Undergraduate and graduate students who reside in Maine or attend a Maine school are eligible.
The 2014 interns are:
Robert Figora of West Gardiner, Maine, a student at the University of Maine at Augusta, is assistant to city manager at the City Manager’s Office in Ellsworth;
Sean McCarthy of Winslow, Maine, a student at the University of Maine at Augusta, is an engineering plans archiving assistant with the Property Management Division of the Bureau of General Services at the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services;
Amanda Findlay of Manchester, Maine, a student at Colby College, is a juvenile justice advisory group assistant with the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group at the Maine Department of Corrections;
Casey Weed of Gorham, Maine, a student at the University of Maine, is a public relations assistant with the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, at the Maine Emergency Management Agency;
Tyler Oversmith of Hampden, Maine, a student at Maine Maritime Academy, is an energy and real property data management intern with the Military Bureau at the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management;
Chelsea Dean of Seabrook, New Hampshire, a student at the University of Maine, is a civil engineering intern with the Dam Safety Program in the Maine Emergency Management Agency Operations and Response Division at the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management;
Mary Taylor of Readfield, Maine, a student a Saint Michael’s College, is a digital learning content intern with Learning through Technology at the Maine Department of Education;
Chris Jones of Litchfield, Maine, a student at Wentworth Institute of Technology, is a digital learning content intern with Learning through Technology at the Maine Department of Education;
Grace Kiffney of Portland, Maine, a student at the University of Maine, is a migrant education field and office assistant with the Migrant Education Office at the Maine Department of Education;
Courtney Burne of Topsham, Maine, a student at the University of Maine, is a migrant education field and office assistant with the Migrant Education Office at the Maine Department of Education;
Hannah Caswell, of Manchester, Maine, a student at Villanova University, is a stream watershed assessment technician with the Land and Water Environmental Assessment/Watershed Management Unit at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection;
Benjamin McCall of Falmouth, Maine, a student at the University of Maine School of Law, is a legal intern with the Office of the Public Advocate at the Maine Executive Department;
Caroline Bowne of Falmouth, Maine, a student at Skidmore College, is a technical writer with the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation, Division of Employer Services at the Maine Department of Labor;
Michael Bailey of Waterville, Maine, a student at the University of Maine, is a labor historian with the Bureau of Labor Standards at the Maine Department of Labor;
Nancy Bergerson of Plymouth, Maine, a student at the University of Maine, is an intern with the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services-Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Central Office at the Maine Department of Labor;
MacKenzie Riley of Waterville, Maine, a student at St. Thomas University, is a communication assistant with the Office of the Commissioner at the Maine Department of Labor;
Jonathan Whittemore of Limestone, Maine, a student at Husson University, is a technical field writer with the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation, Division of Employer Services at the Maine Department of Labor;
Abigail Pratico of Falmouth, Maine, a student at the University of Maine, is an assistant to the principal examiner with the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection at the Maine Department of Professional & Financial Regulation;
Christopher Goodwin of Farmington, Maine, a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, is an actuarial assistant with the Bureau of Insurance at the Maine Department of Professional & Financial Regulation;
Sara Poirier of Winslow, Maine, a student at St. Joseph’s College of Maine, is a special projects coordinator with the Board of Licensure in Medicine at the Maine Department of Professional & Financial Regulation;
Brady Frautten of Winthrop, Maine, a student at the University of Tampa, is a Maine Information and Analysis Center intern with the Maine State Police at the Maine Department of Public Safety;
John Horton of Falmouth, Maine, a student at Bowdoin College, is a Maine Information and Analysis Center intern with the Maine State Police at the Maine Department of Public Safety;
Andrea Cashon, of Milford, Maine, a student at Cornell University, is an environment-natural resource field and data assistant with the Environmental Office-Field Services at the Maine Department of Transportation;
Nicholas Abbott of Gardiner, Maine, a student at the University of Maine at Augusta, is a bridge assistant with the Bureau of Maintenance and Operations/Bridges and Structures at the Maine Department of Transportation;
Hannah Ober of Brunswick, Maine, a student at the University of Southern Maine, is a hydrology-water resources intern with the Environmental Office at the Maine Department of Transportation;
Adam Cotton of Biddeford, Maine, a student at the University of Maine, is a field assistant with the Bureau of Maintenance and Operations at the Maine Department of Transportation;
Emily Maynard of Portland, Maine, a student at the University of Southern Maine, is a transportation planning intern with the Maine Department of Transportation;
Natalie Edmiston of Gray, Maine, a student at the University of Southern Maine, is an assistant with the Office of Employee Development at the Maine Department of Transportation; and
Cynthia Hunter of Portland, Maine, a student at the University of Maine School of Law, is a legal assistant with the Advocate Division of the Portland Regional Office of the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board.
Three University of Maine students are among 10 who will receive a $1,000 Maine Sea Grant Undergraduate Scholarship in Marine Sciences for the 2014–15 academic year.
The scholarship to Tyler Carrier, a fourth-year student of Barre, Vermont, will complement his multiple experiences in scientific research. Carrier has researched oyster disease in the laboratory of Paul Rawson, and his senior Honors thesis focuses on transport of the dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense, the organism responsible for harmful algal blooms known as “red tide.”
Mackenzie Mazur of Douglas, Massachusetts, is a fourth-year marine biology major. Mazur plans to attend graduate school and work in the field of marine conservation.
Benjamin Reed of Milford, Maine, is a third-year student with a double major in marine biology and aquaculture. He has an associate degree in marine technology from Washington County Community College and has worked in Maine’s boat-building industry.
In 2014, Sea Grant expanded the scholarship program beyond UMaine. Additional recipients this year include: Jordan Desousa from University of New England; Kristina Kelley and Jillian Perron at Maine Maritime Academy; Roshni Sharon Mangar, Madeline Motley and Eliza Oldach at College of the Atlantic; and Zachary Vetack from University of Maine at Machias.
The awards are made possible through a matching program in which each $500 award from Maine Sea Grant is matched with a $500 award from the student’s home institution. Students may use the funds for academic and/or research-related expenses. Scholarship recipients become part of Maine Sea Grant’s statewide network of researchers, Extension professionals, and undergraduate and graduate student scholars doing exemplary work in marine science. Awardees have the opportunity to participate in Sea Grant-sponsored workshops, conferences and other events related to marine and coastal policy, resource management, community outreach, and education.
The application deadline for the 2015–16 academic year is Friday, April 17, 2015.
The Maine Sea Grant College Program at the University of Maine is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Maine.
How does a normally peaceful agent break through a previously impenetrable barrier and become a potential killer?
Robert Wheeler has just received a five-year, $500,000 fellowship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) to figure that out.
The University of Maine Assistant Professor of Microbiology will study how and why Candida albicans — the most common human fungal pathogen — transforms from an innocuous yeast in the digestive tract of a person with a healthy immune system to a potentially fatal fungus in vital organs of a person whose immune system has been compromised.
“This award marks a new high point in my research career,” says Wheeler, one of 12 scientists nationwide to receive the 2014 Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award. After internal competitions at colleges and universities, each institution may nominate two investigators; this year, 144 scientists were put forward.
“This provides substantial funding that we can use to pursue high-risk projects with the potential to change our perspective on how dangerous infections begin.”
The goal, he says, is to improve diagnosis and therapy of fungal infection due to better understanding of the interactions between host and pathogen cells.
Wheeler’s lab will explore the host-fungal dialogue at mucosal surfaces where C. albicans — the leading cause of hospital-acquired infection that annually kills several thousand patients in the U.S. — is normally kept in check. “We expect that this will allow us to understand how the healthy immune system normally inhibits infection and how C. albicans invades past the epithelial wall,” he wrote in his application.
What happens at the earliest stages of active infection is one of the biggest mysteries about opportunistic pathogens, he says. And solving that mystery is imperative as infections complicate treatment of diseases, including leukemia, that require suppressing the immune system.
Wheeler’s lab will use zebrafish models of candidiasis at multiple levels — holistic, cellular and molecular genetic — to investigate the interaction between fungal cells and host cells during the earliest stages of infection. The integrated approach will utilize a new set of tools to address questions that have previously been inaccessible, he says.
His lab already has conducted pioneering studies with transparent zebrafish, which model infections caused by bacterial and fungal pathogens of humans. The resulting findings, he says, “opened the door to a deeper understanding of host and pathogen activity at the beginning stage of infection.”
Wheeler credits the previous scientific breakthroughs, and the work on the grant, to the talented, highly motivated and hard-working students and post-doctoral fellows in the laboratory. “The award is based on the pioneering work that they have done to change our perspective on fungal infection over the last five years,” he says.
With this fellowship, Wheeler says his lab will seek to exploit “that opening to discover the mechanistic underpinnings of the dialog between C. albicans and innate immunity at the epithelial barrier.”
On a personal level, Wheeler says he’s humbled to join the creative group of scientists that have previously held or currently hold BWF grants. “It pushes me to further excel and tackle the most important problems in infectious disease,” he says.
Wheeler’s peers lauded both his prior research and his potential.
Aaron Mitchell, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, says Wheeler has “been an insightful innovator for his entire scientific career.”
This award, Mitchell says, will allow Wheeler to build upon his initial findings “to look at the way that the host manipulates the pathogen, and how the pathogen manipulates the host. The remarkable zebrafish toolbox will allow Rob to look for key features of host defense that we can strengthen to thwart the pathogen before it gets a foothold.”
Joseph Heitman, chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University Medical Center, says Wheeler’s research on how “Candida albicans … shields its immunogenic cell surface from immune surveillance in a variety of ways, which can in part be circumvented by drugs that unveil immunogenic signals” has blazed trails.
Heitman says the award will allow Wheeler, a “highly creative and innovative” investigator, to continue to be a leader in the field.
Gerald Fink, the Herman and Margaret Sokol Professor at the Whitehead Institute/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the award “recognizes [Wheeler’s] preeminence as a leader in the battle to combat Candida, a feared human fungal pathogen … for which we have no satisfactory protection.”
Fink anticipates Wheeler’s research will “provide critical insights into our natural immunity from Candida infections, which is the first step towards developing antifungal agents.”
And Deborah Hogan, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, says, “Ultimately, this work is likely to provide important insight into better ways to prevent and fight these often dangerous infections” in babies, in people undergoing chemotherapy and in those with suppressed immune systems.
The first installment of the award will be sent to UMaine on July 15, according to BWF, an independent private foundation based in North Carolina that supports research to advance biomedical sciences.
Victoria McGovern, senior program officer at BWF, says Wheeler’s selection was “based on the scientific excellence and innovation” of his proposal, as well as the strength of the scholarship at UMaine and Wheeler’s accomplishments as a researcher.
Wheeler says he’s pleased the award showcases UMaine and the laboratory to the national research community and he’s excited for opportunities to be in “contact with a number of the best and brightest infectious disease investigators in the U.S., through yearly meetings and a number of networking opportunities at national conferences.”
“The University of Maine is very proud of Dr. Wheeler’s achievement,” says Carol Kim, UMaine vice president for research.
“The BWF is a very prestigious award and identifies Rob as a leader in his field.”
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
University of Maine President Paul Ferguson has appointed Emily Haddad as the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, effective July 28. Haddad comes to UMaine from the University of South Dakota, the state’s flagship institution, where she has served for three years as associate dean for academics in the College of Arts & Sciences.
“We are pleased to have Emily join the UMaine community to lead the state’s largest and most diverse liberal arts and sciences college,” says President Ferguson. “Her record as an academic administrator, and a faculty member involved in teaching and research make her an excellent fit for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and its vital role in students’ educational experiences.”
As associate dean at the University of South Dakota, Haddad works closely with faculty and staff on curriculum development, course scheduling, program assessment and academic policies. She also assists students with academic issues and participates in college financial decisions. She co-led the University of South Dakota’s strategic planning process and participated in the college’s implementation of a new, responsibility-centered management budget model. She has recently been involved in projects to increase student success in remedial mathematics, establish an academic program in sustainability, revise the college degree requirements to improve graduation rates, and create a workforce development program for information technology. She has chaired the South Dakota Board of Regents’ English Discipline Council and is an elected regional delegate to the Modern Language Association.
Haddad joined the University of South Dakota faculty in 1997 and was promoted to full professor in 2008. Before moving to the dean’s office, she chaired the Department of English for six years. She continues to teach a course each semester and to mentor graduate students in English. Her research focuses on intercultural contact in 19th-century British literature. She is the author of a book, Orientalist Poetics: The Islamic Middle East in Nineteenth-Century English and French Poetry (Ashgate 2002), as well as articles and other publications. She earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University in comparative literature. Prior to entering graduate school, she spent two years studying Arabic at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
Originally from Massachusetts, Haddad lives in Vermillion, South Dakota with her husband and three sons.
The University of Maine will offer a six-day, public leadership training program for female college students that aims to strengthening political skills and build confidence.
A diverse group of 28 students with a variety of majors and interests from colleges around the state will arrive at UMaine on Friday, May 30 to take part in the sixth annual Maine NEW Leadership conference. They will learn skills such as public speaking, networking and how to advocate for a cause and run for public office.
Throughout the free conference, students will participate in a variety of workshops hosted by women leaders from politics, business and education. On Tuesday, June 3, participants will travel to the State House in Augusta and Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan.
“Maine NEW Leadership was established to address the underrepresentation of women in state and federal government,” says Mary Cathcart, co-director of Maine NEW Leadership and a senior policy associate at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center.
In the current U.S. Congress, 18 percent of representatives and 20 percent of senators are women, and in the Maine Legislature, 23 percent of senators and 31 percent of representatives are women, according to Cathcart.
More information about Maine NEW Leadership is available online or by calling Cathcart at 581.1539.
It’s Showtime for Paul Mayewski. Check out the preview of the season finale of Years of Living Dangerously that airs at 8 p.m. Monday, June 9. The episode also features President Obama, Thomas Friedman and Michael C. Hall.
University of Maine professor Paul Mayewski is featured in the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously starring Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Matt Damon.
It’s a thriller with an ending that hasn’t been written yet.
Executive producer James Cameron, who has also directed the blockbusters Avatar, The Terminator and Aliens, describes Years of Living Dangerously as the biggest survival story of this time.
The documentary, developed by David Gelber and Joel Bach of 60 Minutes, depicts real-life events and comes with an “adult content, viewer discretion advised” disclaimer.
The nine-part series that premiered April 13 shares life-and-death stories about impacts of climate change on people and the planet.
Correspondents, including actors Ford and Damon, as well as journalists Lesley Stahl and Thomas Friedman and scientist M. Sanjayan, travel the Earth to cover the chaos.
They examine death and devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy; drought and lost jobs in Plainview, Texas; worsening wildfires in the U.S.; and civil unrest heightened by water shortage in the Middle East. The correspondents also interview politicians, some of whom refute the science or are reluctant to enact legislation.
And they speak with scientists who go to great lengths, and heights, to do climate research. Mayewski, director of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute (CCI), is one of those scientists. He is scheduled to appear in the series finale at 8 p.m. Monday, June 9.
Climate change, he says, is causing and will continue to cause destruction. And he says how scientists and media inform people about the subject is important.
“There are going to be some scary things that happen but they won’t be everywhere and it won’t be all at the same time,” he says. “You want people to think about it but not to terrify them so they turn it off completely. You want them to understand that with understanding comes opportunity.”
In February 2013, Sanjayan and a film crew joined Mayewski and his team of CCI graduate students for the nearly 20,000-foot ascent of a glacier on Tupungato, an active Andean volcano in Chile, to collect ice cores.
Sanjayan calls Mayewski “the Indiana Jones of climate research” for his penchant to go to the extremes of the Earth under challenging conditions to retrieve ice cores to study past climate in order to better predict future climate.
Sanjayan, a senior scientist with Conservation International, wrote in a recent blog on the Conservation International website that while people may distrust data, they believe people they like.
He thought it would be beneficial to show the scientific process at work and to introduce the scientists’ personalities to viewers. “He’s the sort of guy you’d want to call up on a Wednesday afternoon to leave work early for a beer on an outdoor patio,” Sanjayan writes of Mayewski.
So for the documentary, Mayewski was filmed in the field — gathering ice cores at an oxygen-deprived altitude of 20,000 feet atop a glacier with sulfur spewing from nearby volcanic ponds. “It’s a strange place to work,” Mayewski says, “but it’s where we can find amazing, productive data.”
He was also interviewed at home, where he enjoys his family, dogs and sailing.
Mayewski likes the series’ story-telling approach. Scientists, he says, need to explain material in a way that is relatable, relevant and empowering.
Take for instance Joseph Romm’s baseball analogy. Romm, a Fellow at American Progress and founding editor of Climate Progress, earned his doctorate in physics from MIT.
On the Years of Living Dangerously website, Romm writes, “Like a baseball player on steroids, our climate system is breaking records at an unnatural pace. And like a baseball player on steroids, it’s the wrong question to ask whether a given home run is ‘caused’ by steroids. Home runs become longer and more common. Similarly climate change makes a variety of extreme weather events more intense and more likely.”
Mayewski says it’s also imperative to provide tools that enable people to take action to mitigate climate change as well as adapt to it.
“When we have a crystal ball, even if the future is bad, we can create a better situation,” he says. “We have no choice but to adapt.”
Maine is in a good position to take action, he says, especially with regard to developing offshore wind technology. “Who wouldn’t want a cleaner world, to spend less money on energy and have better jobs? We will run out of oil at some point but the wind won’t stop,” he says.
Wind is up Mayewski’s research alley. He has recently been studying ice cores from the melting glacier that serves as the drinking water supply for 4 million residents of Santiago. Temperature in the region is rising, greenhouse gases are increasing and winds from the west that have traditionally brought moisture to the glacier have shifted, he says.
And the glacier is losing ice.
“Our biggest contribution is understanding how quickly wind can change,” Mayewski says. “Wind transports heat, moisture, pollutants and other dusts.”
By understanding trends, Mayewski says it’s possible to better predict where climate events will occur so plans can be made. Those plans, he says, could include determining where it’s best for crops to be planted and where seawalls and sewer systems should be built.
Harold Wanless, chair of the University of Miami geological sciences department, says sea levels have been forecast to be as much as 3 to 6 feet higher by the end of this century. On the Years of Living Dangerously website he says, “I cannot envision southeastern Florida having many people at the end of this century.”
In Maine, Mayewski says climate change is evidenced by the powerful 2013–2014 winter, the lengthening of summers, increased lobster catches and northward spread of ticks.
While climate change has become a political topic, Mayewski says it’s a scientific and security issue. He says it’s notable that previous civilizations have collapsed in the face of abrupt, extreme changes. And climate change, he says, is far from linear in the way it evolves.
For decades, Mayewski has been interested in exploring and making discoveries in remote regions of the planet. “When you go all over the world, you get a global view,” he says. “By nature, I’m an optimist. That is tempered with this problem. I do believe there will be a groundswell of people, or governments, or some combination so that there will be a better future in store.”
To watch clips from previous episodes of Years of Living Dangerously, as well as the entire first episode, visit yearsoflivingdangerously.com.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
A University of Maine astronomy professor and graduate student will travel to Chile in July to spend one night of observation at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, east of the city La Serena.
The observatory is home to the newly developed Dark Energy Camera or DECam; the only one of it’s kind. The DECam is part of a 4-meter diameter Victor M. Blanco Telescope, which a few years ago was the largest in South America. The DECam is a set of 62 cameras totaling 570 megapixels.
David Batuski, a physics professor, and Andrej Favia, his graduate student, were allotted one night of observation with the telescope on July 2. The highly competitive proposal application process accepts about one in eight proposals.
Batuski and Favia will spend about four hours looking at two superclusters of galaxies in the search for dark matter, what Batuski calls “one of the greatest mysteries of cosmology right now.”
Dark matter makes up 27 percent of the universe’s content. All observed ordinary matter adds up to 5 percent, while dark energy accounts for 68 percent, according to NASA.gov.
Dark matter doesn’t generate or interact with light, making it only observable through deduction of other observations of its gravitational effects.
According to Batuski, the effects of dark matter have been observed on the small scale — seen as galaxies and clusters of galaxies with too much mass. It has also been observed on its largest scale — the entire universe.
Batuski and Favia’s research will attempt to observe dark matter on a medium scale — roughly 40 million light years — the first of its kind to their knowledge.
With only one night of observation Batuski and Favia are excited, but most of all are hoping for clear weather.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747